Britain’s plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda have been ruled unlawful by the country’s Court of Appeal.
The east African country had agreed to house them in special accommodation centres while their claims were being processed.
But the court decided Rwanda could not be considered a safe third country.
Explaining the decision, the UK’s Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, said: “The deficiencies in the asylum system in Rwanda are such that there are substantial grounds for believing that there is a real risk that persons sent to Rwanda will be returned to their home countries where they faced persecution or other inhumane treatment, when in fact they have a good claim for asylum. In that sense, Rwanda is not a safe third country.”
The ruling is a heavy blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government which has vowed to cut the number of migrants arriving in the UK on small boats.
Sunak made a pledge to “stop the boats”; a reference to the overcrowded dinghies and other small craft that make the journey from northern France carrying migrants who hope to live in the U.K.
He said that “while I respect the court I fundamentally disagree with their conclusions.”
More than 45,000 people arrived in Britain across the Channel in 2022 and several died in the attempt.
The British and Rwandan governments agreed more than a year ago that some migrants who arrive in the U.K. as stowaways or in small boats would be sent to Rwanda, where their asylum claims would be processed. Those granted asylum would stay in the East African country rather than return to Britain. The proposal was considered to be hugely controversial.
Human rights groups say it is immoral and inhumane to send people more than 6,400 kilometres to a country they don’t want to live in, and argue that most Channel migrants are desperate people who have no authorized way to come to the U.K. They also cite Rwanda’s poor human rights record, including allegations of torture and killings of government opponents.
The government says it will appeal the judgement at the Supreme Court.